Let me tell you a story. I was on break at work one night, eating my dinner in the coffee room as I scrolled through Twitter, when another nurse entered and politely asked me about my book. We chatted, all was well, and then the nurse said that she wished she could write a book, but she didn’t have any good ideas.
I almost choked on my Chunky Soup (It was night shift, don’t judge).
At this time, I’d just completed the sequel to Hexed, the last book in my contract with my publisher, which meant that I was now in the predicament of needing to come up with a proposal for my option book. In bookland, many book contracts come with what’s called an ‘option’ clause, wherein the author proposes their next book to their editor by providing a synopsis and sample chapters—which, in my case, was three chapters—and the editor then decides, basically, whether or not they want to keep the author around.
So yeah. Pretty daunting.
It’s not just coming up with any idea, but an idea that excites the author, their editor, and in many cases, a whole team of publishing professionals. An idea that aligns with the author’s “brand”, and that is just as good or a step-up from the books they’ve already written.
But I wasn’t overly worried about it. See, for months I’d been emailing myself book ideas and saving them to a folder in my email. The folder now contained 82 entries. 82 book ideas to peruse! It would be easy. Just a matter of picking the best of the best and churning out three chapters. Thank God I had the foresight to note ideas for times like these. I scrolled through the emails.
“Rich person who namedrops.”
Hmm. I guess that could be a neat idea for a character. Not a book idea, but I kept scrolling.
“Tim and his wife.”
Okay . . . I’m guessing that referred to the owner of the corner store and deli near my house. Why I thought I should include him in my book is beyond me. *scrolls*
“Pimple popping guy.”
Wtf, Michelle. What is that even?
I angrily closed the folder. There was nary a real book idea in that thing. I was back to square one.
I opened up a fresh word document. The blank white page stared back at me accusingly. It’s okay, I told myself. I totally have this. I’m a writer!
I made a coffee. I got my fingerless gloves out, for in case my hands got cold while typing. I got a lap blanket and electric heating pad for my back (Hey, no one said I wasn’t a high-maintenance writer). I stared at the computer. I hesitantly wrote a sentence, then deleted it. I stared some more. I made more coffee. I pushed my cuticles back and wondered if I should start laundry or clean the pantry. I ambled over to Twitter to “take a break”. I stared some more.
And then I faced reality. I had no ideas.
I stared at the word document for hours over the next week, panicking more and more as ideas weren’t just popping into my head. I got annoyed when I came across a book with a brilliant concept that I wished I could have come up with myself. I felt inadequate when Someone Who Won’t Be Named mentioned that James Patterson has a notebook full of hundreds of plot ideas. I mean, are you even a writer if you don’t have book ideas? Writers are supposed to be creative. And there I was. Being decidedly Not Creative. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
See, there seems to be this big misconception that, as a writer, I must be overflowing with book ideas. And maybe that’s true for some writers, and even for me sometimes, when I get a rare burst of ideas, but in this case, my next idea didn’t come to me. I went to it. Inspired by Jack London (“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”) I got my club and went looking for the next great idea.
And good news! (See, this post wasn’t all pity and poor Michelle). I came up with not one, but three book concepts that I’m exceedingly and ridiculously excited about. I can’t pinpoint the exact method that eventually worked for me, but in the event that there are other writers out there who aren’t overflowing with ideas at the moment, here are some of the things that I did when a book idea just wasn’t coming to me:
- I headed over to goodreads, opened up my ‘read’ folder, and scrolled through the books I gave 5 stars to, making notes of what I liked best about those books and what excited me most about them (Forbidden romance! Competition! Magic!)
- Inspired by all the ‘X meets Y’ books of late, I compiled a list of movies, TV shows and books, and then began making unlikely pairings. (Legally Blond meets The Deadliest Catch & Fight Club meets Toddlers and Tiaras among my personal favorites).
- I cornered a coworker at work, demanding she plot my book (I don’t advise this).
- I combined different plot ideas of yore, none of which were quite right on their own, but became something new altogether when different elements of each plot were combined.
- I scrolled through news articles, looking for real-life stories that could be the inspiration for a fictional novel.
And somehow, somewhere along the line, it happened. It wasn’t easy, but then again, what part of writing a book is easy?
Now the proposals are in my editor’s hands. And now? I wait.